One of my favorite things is when a little movie comes out of nowhere and blows me away. Deadstream is one of them. This horror-comedy, available on the Shudder streaming service, is endlessly inventive. Making great use of a single location and excellent practical effects, the film takes viewers on an absolutely insane, unpredictable ride, delivering laughs and jump scares equally.
The main character is Shawn Ruddy (played by Joseph Winter, who also co-wrote and co-directed with wife Vanessa), a disgraced internet personality looking to make a comeback. Known for outrageous stunts, he has devised the craziest idea he could ever tackle - spending the night inside a haunted house and livestreaming the whole thing. To ensure he doesn't chicken out, Shawn throws the spark plugs from his car into the woods and padlocks himself into the dilapidated old home known as "Death Manor." There, a young woman once hanged herself, leading to a series of other bizarre deaths within its walls. If you think this goes well for him, you've obviously never seen a horror movie.
Deadstream is presented as Shawn's live feed. The “found footage” concept may seem played out by now, but the movie puts a fun spin on it. In addition to the camera on his body, Shawn hangs multiple other small cameras in various haunted rooms, allowing him to flip back and forth between locations. That avoids the visually repetitive feel you often get with found footage. Being more brightly lit than similar films is another bonus. You can actually see what's going on. And you will indeed want to see everything that goes on. I don't know if they shot in an actual old house or if someone built one hell of an incredible set. Either way, Death Manor is practically a character in its own right. The illusion is completely convincing.
I don't want to tell you what happens. What I will say is that an entire mythology is built. Over time, we learn about who the young woman was and why she hanged herself. That gives the story substance, along with a genuine sense of eeriness. At the same time, Deadstream is a stinging satire of YouTube personalities, whose desire for followers and monetization can cloud good judgement. Winter perfectly skewers their "Look at me!" narcissistic personas. The concept of Shawn using his online skills to survive a terror-filled situation ties the two halves together.
Scare scenes in the picture are ingeniously designed. More than one moment is guaranteed to make you jump. Unlike many horror flicks, you don't know what's coming or where it's coming from. Those practical effects add a touch of magic. Grotesque sights arrive on a regular basis. What's really admirable is that the film can scare you and make you laugh in the exact same beat when it wants to. Even when being attacked by a hideous paranormal entity, Shawn still worries about things like being deplatformed for cursing. Feeling two opposite involuntary physical reactions simultaneously is bizarre, yet thrilling.
Deadstream offers one huge surprise after another. The story is constantly making abrupt turns to keep viewers off guard and maintain the fun. And because it balances its two halves so well, you don't know whether you're going to laugh or jump at any given point, which adds to the sensation. Shawn's experience gets crazier as it goes on, leading to a finale that pulls out all the stops. This is an 87-minute adrenaline rush that leaves you dazzled by its creativity and execution.
out of four
Deadsteam is unrated, but contains brief language and strong bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.